Danny (Jet Li) is the trained 'attack dog' of Glasgow gangster Bart (Bob Hoskins). Raised from boyhood by Bart and kept on a leash, Danny is unleashed at his master's whim to inflict pain and, where necessary, kill rivals. All Danny remembers of his childhood is the soothing sound of the piano and a chance meeting with blind piano tuner Sam (Morgan Freeman) inspires him to break free of Bart. With the kind care of Sam and his piano student stepdaughter Victoria (Kerry Condon), Danny's memories of his brutal childhood slowly surface. Just as the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, Bart returns to collect his prized possession.
Review by Richard Kuipers:
For a start, this film's got balls. Anyone bold enough to meld various elements of Fight Club, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, A Clockwork Orange and Douglas Sirk melodrama deserves a nod for trying something new. For that, give credit to Luc Besson, who wrote and produced a genre hybrid that gets away with it courtesy of a distinguished cast.
The opening stanzas are ultra-violence heaven as vicious gangster Bart (Bob Hoskins) lets fighting machine Danny (Jet Li) off his leash to sort out the public relations side of his thriving extortion business. The sheer brutality of these scenes may shock even hardened fans, but in many ways the biggest shock to the schematic laid down thus far is the appearance of Morgan Freeman as blind piano tuner Sam. With his sepulchral voice delivering dialogue from Wisdom Dispensing Central, Freeman picks this action-exploitation exercise up, dusts it off, and turns it into a heartwarming human drama for the next twenty minutes or so. Surely the most trusted face in cinema today, Freeman invests the too-good-to-be-true Sam with an authority that makes one forget how improbable the whole setup is. Ditto Kerry Conlon as Sam's virginal, piano student stepdaughter Victoria, who accepts the arrival of Danny without batting an eyelid. Far from being concerned about the stray dog sleeping in the spare room, she's only too happy to bring milk and cookies and fix him up with some nice new pajamas.
If you simply accept the apparently unacceptable, Unleashed gives plenty back in return, not the least of which are some amazing 'fight to the death' scenes at a sleazy underground club patronized by rich clientele, and a memorable Bob Hoskins spitting out blood and obscenities as his prizefighter rejects the terms of employment and puts a log of claims to management. It's fast, furious and somehow, just somehow, the melodramatic portion of the picture pays off provided you give everything a wide berth.
Naturally, Li is in supreme form under the choreography of Hong Kong ace Yuen Woo Ping and director Louis Letterier (tightly supervised by Besson, one suspects) wraps everything up with stylish visuals and impressive control over the wildly varying moods in 103 minutes where slam-bang meets warm and fuzzy. It can be said with equal conviction that there's something for everyone and not enough of anything to fully satisfy.
Those seeking non-stop mayhem may be disappointed for the opposite reasons of discerning audiences. However, if you're at all intrigued by the very idea of radically different genres being placed side by side, Unleashed is well worth the visit.
Review by Louise Keller:
A unique premise by Luc Besson about a man trained as a killer dog, Unleashed offers martial arts star Jet Li a spectacular platform from which to display his talents. Without question, the story requires a leap of faith, but Besson teamed with director
Louis Leterrier makes no comprises. Jet Li's physical prowess coupled with Bob Hoskins' smarmy thug and Morgan Freeman's serene blind piano tuner, are an incongruous combination.
Unleashed is in many ways an unlikely combination of action and sentiment. The action scenes are often excessively violent, while the storyline involving Freeman and his pianist daughter are so gentle, they could belong in another movie. When we meet Li's Danny, he is signalled into lethal action, when his owner Bart (Hoskins) removes his metal collar and through clenched teeth growls the words 'get-em'. Danny gets 'em alright through awesomely choreographed action sequences and Li in full flight.
Hoskins and Freeman play characters at the extreme ends of the spectrum. Bart believes in total control: 'if you 'get 'em young, the possibilities are endless.' Sam, although sightless, sees only too well that nurturing and a gentle approach offer far greater opportunities. It's from Sam's trusting stepdaughter Victoria (Kerry Condon) that Danny learns that a kiss is 'wet and nice' and there is etiquette in eating snow white vanilla ice cream. White ironically, is also the colour of Bart's suit, which invariably gets bloodied, ripped and soiled in blasts of gunfire, splashy carflips and violent confrontations.
Together, Hoskins and Freeman have enough gravitas and credibility to smooth over any script flaws, while Li is at his jaw-dropping best unleashed on numerous gladiator-like opponents at once. Necks crack, high kicks jab and punches fly. Impressively. Li has never been so good. In action, that is. The revelatory flash-back scenes when Danny recalls the tragedy of his youth, with a Mozart piano sonata played in the background, are rather far-fetched, but it's the unleashing and daring of Besson's premise that impresses.
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Aka: Danny the Dog
CAST: Jet Li, Morgan Freeman, Bob Hoskins, Kerry Condon, Vincent Regan, Dylan Brown, Tamer Hassan, Michael Jenn
PRODUCER: Luc Besson, Steve Chasman, Jet Li
DIRECTOR: Louis Leterrier
SCRIPT: Luc Besson
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Pierre Morel
EDITOR: Nicolas Trembasiewicz
MUSIC: Massive Attack
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jacques Bufnoir
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hoyts
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 18, 2005
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.